Don Gretzer believes the shiny, structurally complex building clad in zinc that is home to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art “is the kind of landmark that Richmond needed at this location.”
Gretzer and a friend were among a throng of visitors Saturday who converged on the architectural wonder at West Broad and North Belvidere streets for its grand opening. The institute, which has been slowly taking shape since 2014, has been billed as the biggest thing to happen to the Richmond art scene in years.
Crowds of people toured the three-level, 41,000-square-foot building — a work of art itself — throughout the day. The festival atmosphere was enhanced by a block party with music, food vendors and other attractions just outside along Pine Street.
“It’s at a place in the city where something needed to happen,” noted Gretzer, who’s been in Richmond for six years. “I’m taking some studio painting classes a block or two down (from the ICA), so I’ve been watching it come together. It’s been pretty neat. It fits Richmond well.”
Lesley Bruno, a spokesman for the ICA, noted that people were already lined up outside the door for the 10 a.m. opening. “They had to have a time ticket to get in today, but ticketholders came early to us.”
By the end of the day, an estimated 6,000 people had passed through the doors, Bruno said.
The $41 million center was already named one of the most anticipated buildings of 2018 by Architectural Digest. Upon entering, visitors could see why: The structure has a soaring atrium with towering ceilings, transparent glass walls, curved edges and a sweeping grand staircase.
“It’s a nice addition” to Richmond, said John Sicat of Glen Allen, who came with his wife, Nidia. “I overhead somebody say, ‘We’re going to be like a real city now.’ ”
Said Nidia: “We’ve visited museums, we’ve gone to Washington, D.C., and they have a museum up there that is similar to this. And when I came here, I was like, wow, this is like that they had back in D.C.”
The ICA provides a “nice balance” to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts a couple of miles away, the couple said, echoing sentiments from several other visitors.
“We were just saying that we were super-impressed,” John said. “From what we heard, they’re going to really rotate the exhibits, so a few folks will be coming back, I think.”
As a noncollecting museum, the building will be the only permanent work of art there.
John Stiff, his wife and son drove about a hour from their home in Prince Edward County to pay a visit, joining their daughter who lives in Richmond.
“It’s my wife’s birthday today, so she wanted to come to this,” Stiff said as he sat in the main lobby, which is treated with double-insulated glass to diffuse the noise of Broad Street. “I like the artistic look of the building. Very cool.”
He also enjoyed the opening exhibition, “Declaration,” that features more than 30 artists and roughly 70 works of art. More than a third of the pieces are making their debut at the ICA.
Eric Chamberlain from Virginia Beach came with a group of friends. He didn’t know until Friday that he would be visiting.
“Somebody that I met yesterday for the first time on a patio having lunch mentioned that they were coming here, and they said they had two extra (tickets),” he said. “And I was thinking, I don’t have anything to do, I’ll go with you guys.”
He’s glad he did.
“I like the fact that it’s not just pictures, but it’s sound, moving visuals — I would say an array of things, all our senses put together to interact, for us to take it all in.”
Bruno said it was nice that the community could finally experience the ICA.
“We’ve had lots of previews and events leading to this, but today has just been the most amazing, diverse set of people,” she said. “It exceeded my expectations as the marketing director. In every way you can think about the word diversity — age, gender, ethnicity and point of view — the people that have come through today (reflect that).”